Draft Access to Justice Act 1999 (Solicitors' Practising Certificates) Order 2002

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The Chairman: Order. May I bring the hon. Gentleman back to today's topic for discussion?

Mr. Burnett: I am extremely grateful, and I am happy to finish my points. However, I regret the Law Society's attitude to the order. It has let itself and its members down by co-operating with the order.

10.57 am

Ms Rosie Winterton: May I join with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath by saying that I am sure that we are all grateful for the helpful briefing provided by the Law Society, which illustrates how it uses some of its revenue from practising certificates? I thank the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon for his kind words about the explanatory memorandum. I am sure that they will be fed back immediately to my departmental officials. However, I was surprised by the hon. Gentleman's attitude to the Law Society's support for the order. Given that the Government put in legislation the power for the Law Society to raise money, it is acceptable that there should be agreement that such money should be used for matters in the public interest. Essentially, it is almost given that because the Government have allowed it, the money is raised in the public interest.

Mr. Burnett: The Law Society has had the power for a long time. The current rules are clearly set out in paragraph 4 of the explanatory memorandum. The Government are seeking to curb and fetter those powers.

Ms Winterton: That is absolutely not the case. There is nothing to stop the Law Society from using

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money from other activities, such as money raised from the publication of the Gazette Weekly Journal of the Law Society, for any other purpose that it wishes. Extensive discussions have been held with the Law Society about the proportion of activities that are carried out in the public interest. As Parliament is giving the Law Society the power to raise money, it is right that there should be mutual agreement—which there is—about how that money is spent.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): I recently had a meeting with the Law Society about some solicitors in my area. There is a minority of solicitors whom I would cheerfully pay if they promised never to defend me. The Law Society was quite good at looking into their behaviour, and at acknowledging that it had a problem. This issue is not only about parliamentary money; it is about the fact that some solicitors are representing people in a seriously inadequate way.

Ms Winterton: We are aware of several issues to do with regulation, and we are looking into them. However, it is perfectly reasonable for the Government to expect that, where money is being raised in their name, they will be able to have the open discussions that they do have about how that money is spent—and to ensure that the money that is spent with regard to the practising certificates is separated from some of the other representational work that the Law Society does when it has its trade union hat on. That is the point of ensuring that it is acknowledged that there is a difference, and that the separate kinds of work are clearly set out.

I will look into the issue that the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon raised and write back to him about it, but it is not appropriate to comment on that now.

I hope that my remarks have reassured the Committee, and that it will support the order.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Access to Justice Act 1999 (Solicitors' Practising Certificates) Order 2002.

Committee rose at one minute past Eleven o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Taylor, Mr. David (Chairman)
Brooke, Mrs.
Buck, Ms
Burnett, Mr.
Hawkins, Mr.
Hoyle, Mr.
Jones, Mr.
Kemp, Mr.
Lepper, Mr.
Liddell-Grainger, Mr.
Marsden, Mr.
Perham, Linda
Selous, Andrew
Soley, Mr.
Watkinson, Angela
Winterton, Ms

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Prepared 26 November 2002